Ragnar Ólafsson – living room concert, Łódź; May 30th, 2017
When Ragnar announced the first concert of his Poland tour I was like “Sounds cool, maybe I can manage to go and see a few of those.” I still had plans to see Amanda Palmer in Antwerp and Amsterdam in early June. As more and more shows were announced, I went from “a few” to “as many as possible” and finally “Ah what the hell, let’s just do all of them”. This first one was added last minute, so to get there at an affordable price it took 15 hours on the road. This falls under “the things you do for the artists you love” and it was totally worth it. A lovely house concert with an appreciative audience of about 30 people that I would not have wanted to miss.
So after the long trip, some food and some rest I found myself outside an apartment building in Łódź, hearing music from the windows. So, despite being the first to arrive I knew I was in the right place. Other people joined while I was waiting and when the doors opened, there were already over 20 of us. We piled into a living room where all the furniture had been moved to the sides and a bar chair and a mic stand were set up in the corner. I went and hugged Ragnar, exchanged a few words, the settled down.
The room was nicely decorated so there was a lot to look at while we waited. Time went by quickly, Bartek, the promoter (and owner of the apartment) made a short announcement (in Polish of course) and Ragnar, after asking who spoke Icelandic, started with ‘SSDD’. It worked nicely to set the mood and prepare people for what was about to come. It is also a song that was always played on guitar and does not necessarily need a band to function. I was curious how some of the other songs would work in a solo setup.
While ‘SSDD’ is not my favorite song on the album, I really love ‘Wine’ which was up next. Then, to my surprise, Ragnar asked a local singer Zuza to support him and they sang ‘Dozen’ together. It was quite different from the album version and the one Rosa sings, because the voices are so different, but I really liked it and was happy to hear a song I had not expected to hear. 🙂
Meanwhile it had gotten quite warm in the room and people had switched off most of the lights to keep it cooler. So it was almost candle light atmosphere. Ragnar told us he learned earlier that people in Poland don’t wear tank tops and that we should not mind if he took his sweater off. someone joked that he fit right in with the locals in this specific area – no sleeves and tattoos. 😉 ‘War’ was up next and the guitar only version needed some getting used to for me. This one I think works better with the band. Funnily enough I didn’t think about the fact that it is played on ukulele on the album. He told us he rearranged it to that to make it sound cute while it is actually really progressive with all the chord changes and such.
For ‘Relations’ he asked us to sing call and response on the “Oh-Oh” part. After some practice and explaining when we were supposed to sing, it worked quite well. The reaction “Wow, you’re better than I thought”. 🙂 It did sound pretty good. In between there was some noise from outside that would have fit in with our singing response had it come a little later. It lead to much laughter. 😀 This song is one where I’ve always been wondering what the lyrics mean because they are so metaphorical, but these are the kind of things I never ask. To my surprise, Ragnar said he is still trying to figure the song out himself, because it was subconscious writing. I could immediately relate to that. It has happened to me with some of the stories I wrote.
Before ‘Urges’ we heard a little bit of the reasons why the album was written and the story behind it. A break up may not be the only reason for a solo album, but it is a pretty good one. Of course these songs would not have fit with any of Ragnar’s bands anyway. I’ve always liked ‘Urges’, so I was happy to hear that one. On the other hand I didn’t care so much about ‘Vegetate’ and was surprised that I really like it live. I wasn’t entirely sure, but had suspected it was more tongue-in-cheek than serious and he confirmed that.
Next up were a few songs that are not on the solo album. ‘The Cannon’ was the first of those, including the full story of shooting guns in the desert. It was really long this time too, including specifics about the Fireball cinnamon whiskey they drank and the pictures that were taken after the gun’s scope hit him in the head. 😀 Still one of my favorite songs. It has been since the first time I heard it. Then, something totally unexpected: The first ever live rendition of ‘More will come along’ the B-Side from ‘Hvel’. I love that song but had not listened to it in so long that I could not remember all of the lyrics. They came back to me as I heard it and I remembered how I’d been trying to figure them out together with my friend P. (who was much better at it than me). Anyway, it was the perfect fit for this setting.It really is a beautiful song, if sad. I hadn’t known it was already a few years old when I first heard it. Ragnar told us he didn’t know what the song was about when he first wrote it and only realized it later.
He announced a song from “one of his other bands” so I asked which one and it was Ask the Slave of course. We got a little excursion on murder ballads including part of Nick Cave’s ‘Where the wild roses grow’. I didn’t think the evening could get much better than this. <3 I was wrong though, because what followed was a song I had never heard before, ‘Every Brick in Manhattan’. The backstory was about walking all through Manhattan, seeing all the brick buildings and wondering what the number would be if one counted them all. It was a little gem of a song. 🙂 And as if that wasn’t enough beauty, we got to hear ‘Petals’ too, once again a duet with Zuza. Fan heaven.
We were nearing the end of the set, would get one last song and an encore if we asked for one. 🙂 I had had some questions about the songs on the album and a few were answered during the concert. The child talking during ‘Scar’ is really Ragnar when he was three years old. I figured it might be him since the song is a biography of sorts, but I wasn’t sure. He said his parents found old tapes of him when they were moving. It is also, a mixture of Swedish and Icelandic he speaks there just like I thought it was. The more interesting part though was that a painting of him as a sad clown was used for the photoshoot of the album cover and he is talking about clowns on these tapes. Anyway, despite ‘Scar’ being such a strong band song, it worked well with only the guitar and was a perfect ending to the set.
Of course we wanted to hear more and after some jokes about there not being a backstage and pretending to walk out and come back we got ‘Bravery’ last. A song, as he explained that covers the angry feeling during heartbreak. It does indeed come in many forms. It was a good call for last song of the night. Judging by the clapping and cheers, everyone had liked it.
Most people left straight away, a few chatted a little, but soon there were just our hosts, A., a fellow photographer, and me left. It was lovely. We had tea and fruit and the best strawberry jam in the world, talked about the songs and were treated to an extra encore of ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ and ‘Space Oddity’. 🙂 I learned that ‘Every Brick in Manhattan was a few years old already, but never fit any of the albums. It was just a nice, quiet evening. Perfect after a quiet show. Before we left, Ragnar signed a posted for Bartek and his wife and because she loves giraffes, it was decided that two should be stickered on the poster. It lead to all of us grabbing a few animal stickers and Ragnar getting 13 of them with the mission to leave one at every venue from now on. I’ll be keeping track of that. 😀 Goodnight, see you again tomorrow.
Urges tour Poland: 1 gig down, 13 to go. Next stop: Poznan
More will come along
Every brick in Manhattan